Monday, April 23, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg police fatally shoot man they say pointed rifle

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers shot and killed a St. Petersburg man who ignored their commands and pointed a rifle at them early Saturday, police said.

The officers encountered Lealann Russell Melder Cooley when they went to check out a noise complaint shortly after 3:30 a.m. in the 3300 block of 40th Street N, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.

When police arrived, Cooley, 46, was sitting in his screened porch at 3311 40th St. N. Six officers approached slowly as Cooley had a gun in his hand and a shotgun nearby, Puetz said.

After retreating briefly to his home when officers challenged him, Cooley emerged with a rifle and pointed it at them, police said.

Several of the officers fired at Cooley, killing him.

It was unclear Saturday if Cooley said anything to the officers, Puetz said.

Officers found several guns and ammunitions in Cooley's home, he said.

"When we got in the house, it looked like many of them had been pulled out on the bed," Puetz said. "It looked like they'd been pulled out recently and kind of haphazardly."

He also had a bandolier — an ammunition belt usually slung across the chest — with him, Puetz said.

Cooley's common-law wife and 16-year-old daughter fled the house earlier Saturday when he began drinking heavily, police said. They went to stay with relatives after Cooley began acting paranoid and making suicidal threats.

The wife's and daughter's identities weren't released. Police consider them witnesses.

About 9:15 a.m. Saturday, a young woman sobbed uncontrollably in open door of a minivan as a woman talked with police officers near the home.

Some neighbors said Cooley had been shooting guns all day Friday, but they were too scared to call police.

Finally, at about 1:45 a.m., one of them called 911 and said they heard shots. Police went to the area but didn't find anything.

They left, Puetz said, but were called back less than two hours later for the noise complaint. Officers expected to be handling someone playing loud music.

Police said residents shouldn't be scared to call for help. They said there are ways to remain anonymous, even with neighbor problems.

"We would've been better served had we known exactly what was going on," Puetz said. "I don't know if this would've made anything different."

Cooley's next-door neighbor Alice Wellington, 65, has lived on the street since 1971. Cooley moved in about four years ago, she said.

Although he sometimes drank too much, he was a good neighbor, she said. Cooley, who was known as "Russ," fixed cars in his yard and looked out for her and her husband, she said.

She never heard gunshots from his house or saw Cooley with weapons before Saturday. Although his stereo was very loud Friday night, she didn't call police, she said.

"It's a rough way to go. I feel sorry for his wife and daughter," Wellington said.

Saturday's incident was Cooley's second involving a weapon. In March 1995, St. Petersburg police charged him with firing a weapon and resisting arrest without violence, state records show. He pleaded no contest, paid a $150 fine and served five months on probation, according to court records.

It is also the second officer-involved shooting this week in St. Petersburg.

At the beginning of the week, police shot and killed another man who was on his porch. Ronald Wesley Sexton, 23, pointed a gun at an officer on Labor Day, police said. He had been accused of drinking and arguing with a neighbor.

Investigations into both incidents are ongoing. The six officers involved in Saturday's shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave while department investigators and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office conduct an inquiry.

The officers are: Lt. Gregory Totz, 61: and Officers Christopher Turbee, 37; Michael Carter, 40; Michael Karayianes, 30; David Kimes, 38; and John Phifer, 34.

Sharon Bernhardt lives across the street from Cooley's house. In the past year, another neighbor had his front window shot out and she saw an armed teen prowling by her back yard, she said.

Early Saturday, when her Siberian husky, Gabriel, got upset, she peeked out a window. She saw police lights and heard what sounded to her like firecrackers.

But she didn't go outside. The neighborhood has become ominous to her.

"I stay in my little cocoon," said Bernhardt, 59. "Something is not right. Something has gone awry."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

   
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